The benefits of employee wellness programs are numerous, with their obvious gains addressing better economic output and a healthier population. Now, as communities across the US and the rest of the world battle the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re proving beneficial in another way—by mitigating the virus’s consequences.

Researchers have pinpointed two demographics that are highly susceptible to hospitalization, serious complications, and death due to the coronavirus: (i) the elderly and (ii) those with underlying health conditions. That means over 11 million American adults with chronic conditions are at a severe risk from COVID-19. Of course, that number may be greater as many of these conditions are underreported.

While researchers have been working off of rapidly-changing and limited information, initial data suggests that the fatality rates for those with cardiovascular disease (10.5%), diabetes (7.3%), chronic respiratory disease (6.3%), hypertension (6.0%), and cancer (5.6%) greatly outnumber those for people with no underlying health condition (0.9%). The vast majority (87%) of those in critical condition with the virus also have an underlying condition. Interestingly, early observations in Wuhan revealed that, in many cases, those dying were not succumbing from the effects of COVID-19 directly (such as pneumonia). Instead, the cause of death had come from existing problems that were exacerbated (such as stroke or kidney failure).

Age also has an exponential effect on mortality, and older populations also have more pre-existing conditions. For those over 80 years old, fatality rates seem to be as high as 15% (and possibly greater), while those under 55 have a roughly 0.9% chance of death. Even as the situation changes from week to week, these at-risk groups have not seen their odds improve.

While communities try to learn from this experience, governments and medical facilities are implementing new protocols and preparedness plans. For businesses with holistic wellness programs in place, this pandemic is proving to be less of a challenge than it might have been. A healthier workforce—better equipped to deal with all the consequences of a public health crisis—is proving to be an incredibly beneficial long-term and far-reaching investment.

Prepare Employees For Unexpected Challenges

Knowing that people in poor health are more likely to experience COVID-19 hospitalizations and fatalities, employee wellness programs play a direct role in mitigating this pandemic’s consequences, in terms of total fatalities and health complications. They also enable their workforce to better adjust to the lifestyle changes resulting from current stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. The most effective programs help their employees:

  • Prevent and maintain good physical health — By implementing benefits that improve activity levels, encourage healthy habits and dieting, support mental and emotional health, and eliminate stress, employees are less likely to develop a chronic condition. Thus, these programs lower the number of individuals who will experience adverse health effects from COVID-19 and other illnesses.
  • Manage chronic conditions — For those that are struggling with their wellness, employee programs introduce or incentivize workers to take steps to change their habits and lifestyle to lessen the effects or reverse health problems.
  • Support family responsibilities — While an employee might not be personally at a greater risk for COVID-19 complications, they may have a family member who is. By supporting caregiving responsibilities with flexible scheduling, counseling, and referral services, the at-risk groups impacted from this virus can receive better support from their caretakers. Similarly, as childcare institutions are closed, these benefits can help employees simultaneously juggling remote work and parenting duties.
  • Improve mental and emotional health — Employee programs that emphasize mental health support will be better equipped to address the rising levels of anxiety and depression from health and financial concerns, family issues, cancelled plans, and uncertainty. Stress relief, meditation and mindfulness tools, mental health resources, and counseling services all ease the effects of this unforeseen disruption.

While companies can’t go back in time and administer wellness benefits prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, this situation highlights the value of investing in workforce well-being. These benefits provide more than just improved employee productivity, talent retention, and work performance. They also mitigate the damage, economic and otherwise, from unpredictable or catastrophic events.

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